I received a lot of attention after Undefeated, the movie about the 2009 football team I coached at Manassas High, captured the Oscar for Best Documentary. But the most gratifying part was the forum that it provided me, first in speeches, and now in this book, to lay out the principles that helped those youngsters attain success on the field, and my employees to succeed in the workplace – and, more importantly, to understand what it takes to maintain that success for the rest of our lives.
I’m often asked, “How did you do it? How did you turn a group of largely unfocused kids into a tight and highly motivated football team?” Many also wonder, “How did you turn an abandoned piece of property in the middle of North Memphis into a $45 million company with 120 employees?”
The first question is a difficult one to answer, because my philosophy of coaching doesn’t start with Xs and Os. It starts with believing that players win games and coaches win players. I offer my players strong examples of the principles that have worked for me, and have worked for other fulfilled people I know—and then I step back and let them draw their own conclusions. And often, after thinking about it for a while, they run by me the solutions they’ve figured out. Only after they’ve absorbed these vital lessons do I go over the Xs and O’s. As for my business, once I go through the same exercise with employees, I go over the machinery and balance sheets, seeking the same result.
Obviously, with a book, readers don’t have the chance to run things by me right away, or to ask questions. So I’m taking things a bit further and doing a little more actual “coaching” than I normally do. I’m going to show you how the people that I’ve worked with, on and off the field, improved their lives, using the principles that I feel are essential to anyone’s enrichment. And I’m going to give you plenty of real-life examples so you’ll have no doubts as to what I’m talking about.
“My hope is that when you’ve finished reading, you will have a much stronger sense of how these values can make a huge difference in your life”
I’m also going to bare my soul in describing events and scars in my own life that I’ve had to conquer, get past, and forgive. My hope is that when you’ve finished reading, you will have a much stronger sense of how these values can make a huge difference in your life, and how to apply each one to your particular circumstances. You may also find ways to encourage and stimulate others to be the best that they can be.
None of the people I’ve coached or managed are believers in the fate that society chose for them. Instead, they carved out a new fate for themselves.
I think of the star linebacker with an anger management problem who assumed responsibility for the first time in his life, and is now a loving father. Or the former drug addict and prison inmate who rose to become line manager at the lumber company I own. Or the cornerback prone to late hits that harmed the whole team, who is now a cadet at West Point. Or the wide receiver who discovered that he could reveal his emotions and the universe wouldn’t come to an end. Or the woman who suffered abuse from one man after another until she finally found a devoted husband when she was in her thirties. There are countless others who prove that regardless of how difficult their circumstances might be, human beings can turn their lives around; it is never too late.
The transformation isn’t seamless. The same obstacles in our environment and in our souls— which hold us back from sustained growth year after year — have not mysteriously vanished. Yet we can change the direction of our lives through abiding by a series of principles – including character, commitment, civility, and service – that make a profound difference. These principles have been drawn from my own experience, and through interactions with people who helped me over many years. I’ve been extremely fortunate to meet remarkable individuals who showed me how vital it was to follow their example. They helped me envision a world far beyond myself, and for that I’ll always be grateful.
Naturally, these tenets mean different things for different people, yet they have one thing in common, and that is faith. Faith in the power of the individual to summon the will to be the best person that he or she can be. Faith in the institutions that have bonded us together since practically the dawn of time. And most significantly to me, faith in the grace of God.
“There are countless others who prove that regardless of how difficult their circumstances might be, human beings can turn their lives around; it is never too late.”
Beyond enriching ourselves and our relationships, I believe that adhering to these age-old principles can also help create a better society around us. I hear today’s parents talk a lot about their fear that they might become the first generation in this United States to leave the next generation in worse shape economically. No doubt this is a legitimate concern – we all want our kids (and their kids) to live in as much comfort as possible – but to me, the GNP is not the overriding issue. The issue is passing on to that generation the riches that no Harvard economist could ever measure – the principles that bring out the best in us instead of the worst.
As much as I hope that the lumber company I founded and the teams I’ve coached will be a part of my legacy to my own four children, I’d throw those accomplishments away in a second if I felt they detracted too much from my most critical job: teaching them the principles I cherish. I’ve done my best to point out to them why each value matters on its own, but also how these tenets are tightly linked to each other: You can’t be a successful leader or mentor until you have served; you can’t serve until you have stepped out of your comfort zone. And you can’t step out of your comfort zone with any success unless you have character and keep your word.
These values may be seen as old-fashioned, and perhaps they are, but they apply more than ever to the challenges that we face today. That they run counter to today’s prevailing wisdom merely illustrates how far we have strayed in recent decades. In fact, some of the most awe-inspiring runs in football occur when the ball carrier goes against the grain — boldly cutting back into the pursuit of the defense, rather than attempting to outrun the opponent. Similarly, when craftsmen sand and finish a piece of wood against its grain, it becomes warm and smooth, and assumes a special quality in furniture and floors which lasts for generations. The effort is painstaking, just as it often is in adopting the principles that I discuss in this book. But the rewards — as in football and in craftsmanship — are amazing and timeless.
Author and Columnist
Director of Bull Durham and Tin Cup
International Tennis Hall of Famer and ESPN broadcaster